Levein’s “fingers crossed” over Naismith’s injury

Craig Levein

Craig Levein will be without Steven Naismith for the second time this season. (Credit: Luke Barry)

Hearts star striker Steven Naismith has been ruled out for 10 weeks after requiring surgery on his knee. He was substituted in a 2-1 defeat to Celtic last weekend in what would turn out to be his second major setback of this season.

He goes for his operation on Monday next week, however, his manager Craig Levein has not ruled out the possibility that he will return before the end of the season should Hearts make it to the Scottish Cup final.

He said: “I hope so, he came back from injury really quickly last time so fingers crossed it will be the same again. It is unfortunate for him and for us at the club too because we have a lot of big games ahead.”

Levein has voiced his empathy for Naismith, who will not only miss the majority of the club season, but potentially the European Championship play offs at the end of the season. The 32 year old would have most likely been a starter for Alex McLeish’s Scotland side who play Kazakstan and San Marino in the summer.

He said: “It is not only a shame for Hearts. He is also sitting on 49 caps and should be getting his 50th in a couple of months. He is a player whose generation has missed out on getting to major finals with Scotland and there is a chance that could happen this time. So I feel sorry for him as he has worked ever so hard to get back from his last injury.”

Steven Naismith was forced off in a 2-1 defeat to Celtic last week (Credit: SNS Group)

However, despite their form dipping the last time they were without Naismith, the Hearts boss is more confident in his squad at this stage of the season.

“When he was out previously we had a shortage of strikers. Craig Wighton is bak fully fit again after his ankle problem and we have also got David Vanecek back with us as well as Uche [Ikpeazu]. So it is a different situation altogether and I don’t feel nearly as anxious as earlier on in the season when we had to deal without Steven in the team.”

Hearts play Dundee away in the league on Saturday as their hunt for Europe continues as they currently sit in fifth place and three points off Kilmarnock. Craig Levein will be hopeful that his side can claim all three points against the team currently a point from bottom in the table.

 

Gerrard calls for more severe punishments after Rodgers burglary

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Rangers manager Steven Gerrard says people who break into homes need to be given 15 year sentences in prison.

This is in response to Brendan Rodgers Glasgow house being burgled in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Gerrard was shocked at the news of his ex-Old Firm rival’s house and has calls for the sentences to increased from three years to 10 or 15.

The Liverpool legend is understandably passionate about the subject after he suffered a similarly horrific ordeal when his Merseyside home was burgled 12 years ago. The men responsible for this particular break in were jailed, but evidently in Gerrard’s opinion, not for long enough.

The Leicester manager’s wife Charlotte Searle and daughter were forced to barricade themselves into the bathroom as the intruders broke in and stole a number of Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic winners medals. He has said that despite this horrible experience, he will not let it spoil the good memories he has of living in Scotland.

Even when Rodgers was appointed as the Leicester manager and moved south, Mrs Searle had continued to live in East Dunbartonshire with her daughter while the school term finishes.

Rodgers has said that it is obviously unacceptable from those responsible, the main thing is that his family are unharmed.

 

Sports Paper Review: March 8th

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Fraser Munro spoke to Luke Barry and Bryce Donaldson about today’s big stories in sports, from Hearts’ striker penning a new three year deal to Scotland rugby captain being benched for the weekends game.

Stevenson reveals “excitement” at working under 10th Hibs boss

Lewis Stevenson

Lewis Stevenson has spent 14 years at the club (Credit: David Ronney)

Hibernian left-back Lewis Stevenson says it’s a clean slate for himself as he works under his 10th boss, Paul Heckingbottom, as he looks to impress his new manager.

The 31-year-old made his debut for the Edinburgh club in 2005 and is currently the longest serving player at the club.

However, he admitted he feels there is still the same nerves when a new boss is appointed.

He said: “Every time a new manager is appointed there is the same nerves and apprehension, and perhaps the same excitement as well. I have learnt something new from everyone who’s managed at Hibs, I don’t think it matters how old you are at all.

“With Paul coming all the way from England, of course the lads feel like they have a point to prove. But as soon as he came in it was clear he knew all about us so that helped put our minds at ease.”

The clubs perfect record under Heckingbottom came to an end in their quarter-final clash with Celtic at Easter Road on Saturday.

Stevenson spoke of the positives and negatives the side took from their defeat against the reigning champions.

He added: “There are things we did very well on Saturday and things we didn’t do so well, but we know what we need to focus on. If we can get rid of the negatives then that will stand us in good stead for the future.”

However, things are not about to get any easier for Easter Road side as they host Steven Gerrard’s Rangers on Friday night.

Lewis Stevenson

Hibernian were knocked out the Scottish Cup last weekend in a 2-0 home defeat to Celtic (Credit: David Ronney)

According to the veteran full back, the games against the bigger teams in Scotland are the ones he relishes most.

He said: “These are the games you really want to play in, when it’s a full house. Big crowds usually mean a higher tempo and a higher intensity of game. We’re a more physical side now and we’ll need all our stamina on Friday night.

“We’re looking at them as a team and we’re well aware how good a side they are from playing them at Ibrox earlier on in the season. But if we implement our game plan then we know we’ve got a very good chance to come away with all the points.”

Hibs are currently in sixth place, and only three points off rivals Hearts. With a European spot not yet out of sight, Stevenson spoke of the sides desire to push on and finish as high in the table as possible.

“We’re trying not to focus too much on how the table looks and just take each game that comes to us. We’ve got five games before the split and we’ll try to get three or four wins and see where that leaves us.”

Scotland secure fifth place in Algarve Cup

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The Scotland women’s team celebrate a goal (Credit: SNS Group)

Shelley Kerr’s Scotland side clinched an impressive fifth place in the Algarve Cup on Wednesday after beating Denmark, with West Ham’s Jane Ross scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win.

Despite making 10 changes from the 4-1 win over Iceland on Monday, the Scots recorded a well earned victory over the Danes – who were finalists at the UEFA Women’s EURO 2017.

Glasgow City’s Jo Love, now only 11 caps short of astonishing double century, was made captain for the day in the absence of the rested Rachael Corsie.

A heavily rotated Denmark struggled throughout the 90 minutes to test Hibernian keeper, Jenna Fife who made only her second ever start between the sticks.

Fife was finally beaten deep into the second half when Frankie Brown was short with a pass back, allowing Nicoline Sorensen to nip in and slip the ball past the keeper. But substiute Rachel Corsie provided some last minute heroics and was able to get back in time to prevent the ball crossing the line.

The Danes may feel flattered by the scoreline after Scotland hit the woodwork on three occasions in the first half amongst numerous other chances to extend the lead.

However, Ross’ 58th international goal just after the half hour mark proved decisive and saw Scotland win their second and final game of the tournament

Despite being the third lowest ranked side in the 12 team competition, Scotland managed to finish above countries such as Spain and the Netherlands.

A last minute penalty saw Scotland beaten on the opening day of the Algarve Cup by Canada, who were the highest ranked team in the competition. EN4 News discussed the match further in this podcast.

The Canadians went on to secure bronze in the competition after topping the group and beating Sweden on penalties in the third place play off.

Norway emerged as emphatic winners of the tournament by seeing off Poland in the final, winning 3-0 and claiming their fifth major title.

 

Partick Thistle v Hearts – Scottish Cup Preview

Scottish Cup

Partick Thistle have had a troubling season since last year’s relegation to the Championship (Credit: David Ronney)

Hearts are aiming to reach the semi final of both domestic cups this season when they play Partick Thistle at Firhill Park on Monday evening. 

The team from the capital will be hoping to bounce back after suffering last minute heartbreak against Celtic, where they conceded a 90th minute goal to lose 2-1 after going down to ten men.

Craig Levein has seen his side go four league games without a win, the last time they came away with three points was at Kilmarnock at the start of February. Their form has seen them slip out of the title race and down to fifth place in the Premiership table, now only three points above rivals Hibs in the league.

The Jambos can take comfort from their battering of Auchinlech Talbot 4-0 in the previous round. They also impressed in a 1-0 win over Livingston in the 4th round.

Partick are one of three Championship teams left in the Scottish Cup battling for a place in the semi-final stage and will be hoping to add to Hearts’ recent poor run of form in the league.

Considering they are currently bottom of the Championship it has been a very mixed season for the team from Glasgow who remarkably find themselves in a Scottish Cup quarter final with a real shot at making it into the last four.

Thistle have shown similarly disappointing form in the league, and having lost their last two games, find themselves rock bottom of the league on goal difference. Whilst it is tight at the foot of the table with a point between 8th and 10th, Gary Caldwell’s men will be all to wary of relegation this late on in the season.

The sides last meeting was Scottish Premiership in 2014 at Tynecastle, and saw Partick Thistle come away with three points after a thrilling 4-2 win.

Both sides will be eager to win, but the pressure will be stacked on Hearts as they look for silverware in a season that looks to have fizzled out after such promise in the league.

Scottish Cup

The trophy both clubs are vying for (Credit: Luke Barry)

 

 

Hibernian vs Celtic: Scottish Cup Preview

Scottish Cup

Hibernian will be hoping to replicate the successful run in 2016 (Credit: David Ronney)

Hibernian welcome Scottish Cup reigning champions, Celtic to Easter Road this weekend, in what is shaping up to be a fascinating fixture following Neil Lennon’s appointment at the helm of the hoops.

Lennon left the Edinburgh club in Janurary and has made a swift return to Scottish football with Celtic only a month later.

The job of Celtic manager was vacated by Brendan Rodgers, who was tempted south to take over at Leicester City following the sacking of Claude Puel on Monday. This sacking was the start of the carousel of manager turnover this week.

Lennon will no doubt receive a mixed reception from the fans upon his return to Leith.

The Northern Irishman was in the dugout celebrating the last gasp winner against 10-man Hearts on Wednesday night that maintained his side’s eight-point lead at the top of the Premiership table ahead of Rangers in second place.

On the other hand, Hibs have enjoyed a good run of form under their new manager Paul Heckingbottom. The new boss has won three out of three since his arrival in mid February. This included an impressive win at St Johnstone on Wednesday night, with Marc McNulty grabbing the winner five minutes from time despite Hibernian going down to 10 men.

That win took them to within three points of fierce rivals Hearts who currently sit in fifth in the SPFL after a disappointing mid-season lull due a long string of injuries.

Heckingbottom will know beating Celtic will hand them a fantastic chance of silverware this season, which would be all too welcome considering their woes in the league this season.

Neil Lennon will be hoping to win a game at Easter Road, which incidentally is something his predecessor Brendan Rodgers never managed to do. A win is essential if the dream of the treble treble is to be kept alive.

The first match of the Scottish Cup weekend kicks off on Saturday at 5:15pm and is live on Premier Sports.

First team football means “a great deal” to Hibs’ Mackie

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Mackie is enjoying life at Hibs (Credit: Luke Barry)

Hibernian left back Sean Mackie admits that first team football is a “massive step up” from Under-20s but playing means a “great deal” to him.

The 20-year-old has seen his first team opportunities increase due to the injury of Lewis Stevenson, including a start in Hibs’ 2-0 defeat at Celtic on Wednesady.

Mackie revealed that playing at this level is “less about performance” and more about getting a win.

“It means a great deal to me, obviously it takes time and I just had to keep working hard in the under 20’s and see what happened after that,” he said.

“I’ve had a little bit of a break and I feel like I have done well recently when given the chance”

“It is a massive step up from the under 20’s into the first team as you would expect. But I have found that at this level it is less about performance and almost all about getting the three points, by whatever means necessary.

“It is definitely better to put in a good performance as well but the only essential to come away from the match day with the win.”

 

Despite the uncertainty around the club’s manager, Mackie is enjoying his time at Hibs and says everyone must focus solely on what happens on the pitch.

“Honestly I am trying to think about it [the lack of manager] as little as possible,” he said.

“Obviously you are going to think about it from time to time but it is important that my main focus always is playing football.

“If you are involved as a player you just need to perform – that’s your job. At the end of the day we can’t really influence what is happening off the field.”

“There’s a lot of experienced players in the squad that I can go to for advice about anything, whether it is football related or not. Having guys like that around always helps in times like this.”

Hibernian host Raith Rovers tomorrow in the Scottish Cup, and concedes most of the pressure is on the Edinburgh side.

“I think most of the pressure is put on by ourselves because we know exactly what needs to be done in order to get the result – it is just a case of going out and doing it on Saturday [tomorrow].

“It is ideal being drawn at home because no matter what the game is like the fans will have our back. Hopefully we get the result we want and can take that onto the next league game.”

Hearts boss taking Auchinleck cup tie “very seriously”

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Levein is aware of Auchinleck’s threat (Credit: Luke Barry)

Heart of Midlothian Craig Levein has insisted he’s taking Sunday’s Scottish Cup fifth round tie against Auchinlek Talbot “very seriously.”

Auchinleck play in the junior leagues whilst Hearts are a Scottish Premiership side, but Levein was quick to dismiss talk that Auchinleck would be an easy opponent and insisted he’s treating the game like any other.

“It is a cup competition – only one of three major trophies available in this country – so of course we are taking it very seriously,” he said.

“I am looking forward to it. It is an unusual match to be pitched against a team in junior football. Having played in junior football myself I know that there is a lot of good players at that level.”

Hearts and Auchinleck have history, with the two clubs meeting in the same competition in 2012. Auchinleck won that tie 1-0, and Levein is more than aware that history could repeat itself.

 “I think that is exactly how the game could pan out if we do not move the ball quickly enough,” he commented.

“We are a level above where they are at the moment. But they are a team that find a way to win week in, week out and that is dangerous.

“Obviously there is no pressure on Auchinleck to get anything out of this game so perhaps that could be an advantage for them, but I have been to see their match last week and I know how they play so we don’t have any excuses to not be prepared for Sunday.”

Ikpeazu keen to make up for “lost time”

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Ikpeazu is delighted to get back playing after a five month injury (Credit: Luke Barry)

Heart of Midlothian striker Uche Ikpeazu is keen to make up “for lost time” after returning from a foot injury against Livingston on Wednesday night.

Ahead of Hearts’ Scottish Cup fifth round tie against Auchinleck Talbot, Ikpeazu admitted he is “focusing on having a good end to the season” after missing the last five months.

“As a footballer, nobody wants to be injured, but unfortunately it is part and parcel and we have had a few of them this season,” he said.

“It’s been tough but I’ve worked really hard, now I am focused on having a good end to the season and making up for lost time.”

“I’ve had a few operations in my time and obviously after it, the foot can take a lot of time to heal and even then it may not be the same. It is a testament to the hard work and the fantastic facilities at Hearts that have helped me make a strong recovery.”

 

Ikpeazu’s injury was one of several for Hearts this season, with defenders Christophe Berra and John Souttar also missing several months with their own woes.

“We had so many injuries that happened all of a sudden last year, we were all working together to get fit and encourage each other on a day to day basis. We are all back now and it helped that I wasn’t alone.

“It was frustrating being on the sidelines and seeing the team struggle, especially with the great start we had to the season.

“I still maintain that if we kept everyone fit we could be right up there, even without all our players we are still not far off and now it is about making the best of the end of the season.”

Ikpeazu admitted that the supporters “have been massive” to him during his time out, and helped keep him motivated.

“Coming on and hearing the cheers was really good and it motivates me. I know the best is yet to come.

“The fans have been massive to me, even when I was injured. A couple of days of my operation I was receiving messages saying they can’t wait to have me back, that means so much and it motivated me even more to get back quicker.”

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